Double Bridges
by Dean Lambert

During the Civil War, the most noted Union offensive into Louisiana was the Red River Campaign of 1864. This Union invasion into central and northwest Louisiana brought fame to several small settlements that were located on or near the Red River. Settlements such as Grand Ecore, Cloutierville, Pleasant Hill, and Mansfield all became important locations in the federals attempt to capture Shreveport and parts of East Texas. But there were other sites that were also strategic. Maybe not as a large engagement site, perhaps not as a supply or staging area, but simply as a marker, a place of encampment, a place of relative safety, where one had the option of making a stand or simply slipping away from any offensive threat.

Double Bridges, located 14 miles west of Natchitoches and one and half miles north of Robeline, was just that sort of a place. In 1864, Double Bridges was on a remote inland road that weaved its way from Natchitoches through what now is the Shady grove community, through Shamrock, Marthaville, and on to Pleasant Hill. It was this route that Union General Nathaniel Banks used to move his force of over 20,000 blue-clad soldiers from Grand Ecore north toward his goal of Shreveport.

The Union army, including 1000 wagons, stretched for over twenty miles once it left the Red River. Around 14 miles west of Natchitoches they came to Double Bridges which consisted of one large bridge and a smaller one. These were located just south of where present day creeks Winn, Stoker, and Shamrock, all merge into what is called Bayou Dupont. We know that both Federal and Confederate units camped at or near this location in the Spring of 64. One such unit was the 119th Illinois Infantry, led by Col. William F. Lynch. According to their official reports, they left Grand Ecore on the morning of April 7th and after marching for 15 miles through a "howling wilderness" as one soldier described it, camped at 5 o'clock near the Double Bridges. They stayed until 7 o'clock the next morning and then marched 20 miles to a location near Pleasant Hill. Double Bridges was also the place where the 119th camped after the Battle of Pleasant Hill, as they made their way back to Grand Encore. According to records, the Illinois regiment left Pleasant Hill at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 10th, marched for 22 miles, and made camp around 2 p.m. that evening. They spent the night and left early the next day for Natchitoches. How many other regiments used Double Bridges as a stop over is unknown, other accounts list nearby encampments at Sand Hill and Bayou Robeline.

The morning after the Battle of Pleasant Hill, General Taylor of the Confederate forces sent a strong force under the command of Colonel Yager, who had assumed Buchel's regiment, to pursue the retreating Union force. They headed east for twenty miles before coming to a halt at Double Bridges. The retreating federals had burned the bridges. Since records from the 119th Illinois indicate they had camped here at 2:00pm on the 10th, one could assume that the two armies were within only a few hundred yards of each other, yet the confederates were unable to overtake the Federals because of the destroyed bridges. The Confederate force however, captured around 100 union stragglers while pursuing the Union troops. If one looks at the list of soldiers held in the Confederate Prison at Tyler, Texas, known as Camp Ford, some are listed as being captured at Double Bridges, La.

When the Confederate forces came upon the burned bridges it is not known what happened. We do know that a skirmish in most probability did take place, however small. Artifacts found near the larger creek indicate that artillery shells had exploded along the eastern bank. Several different types of exploded artillery fragments have been found. These findings, along with other finds, including minnie-balls, and whole shells, indicated a rear guard action did in fact take place on April 10th. No official record has been located that lists such an action. If it took place after the two fierce battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, one small skirmish would not have seemed that important at the time.

And then there are the unofficial records, stories handed down from generation to generation, perhaps true, perhaps partially true, who knows, but one story is that a Mr. Lambert, who lived at nearby Shamrock, stood at the far end of Double Bridges, with shotgun in hand and refused to let the Yankees cross the bridge and come onto his property. No doubt, Mr. Lambert had no idea that the few soldiers he was debating with, were the first of 20,000. It is said that when the Union soldiers came across the bridge, Lambert shot the officer with a blast of birdshot, then quickly ran for his life. The federals were unable to find him but did locate his residence and took his wife and daughters hostage. Their plans were to send them by boat to New Orleans to the federal prison camp once they had reached Shreveport. Evidently, with the Union force's disastrous defeat at Mansfield, and their hurried retreat from Pleasant Hill, the birdshot from Mr. Lambert's shotgun seemed somewhat minor, and the women were released. Again, this is one version of the story that has been told and retold. What actually happened, who knows. The truth may be forever hidden in the slow moving waters of Double Bridges.

Double Bridges today, is still isolated. The old bridges, rebuilt after the Union retreat, have since disappeared. Artifact hunters have come and gone. Apparently, some souvenirs have been taken from this hard wood bottom. Some have made it to museums, most to private collectors. A fairly large number of cannon balls and shells were reportedly found in the bed of the creek. No doubt this is true, however one suspects that some were illegally taken from the old isolated Welsh Cemetery that stands on an adjacent hill. It was common to use them as burial markers.

The crossing now is only known to a few. Those turbulent April days of 1864 are nearly forgotten. But one can still sense the sound of 20,000 troops marching across the wooden bridges heading into battle- heading into history.

 

 



 

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